CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Gov. Matt Mead will oppose a lawsuit filed by environmental groups trying to block the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from proceeding with a plan to round up and castrate hundreds of wild stallions in the southwestern part of the state, his office said Thursday.
Steve Ferrell, policy adviser to Mead, said the state intends to enter the lawsuit to argue that the roundup should proceed to stop the wild horses from hurting rangelands.
The BLM plans to use helicopters to gather nearly 900 wild horses from the White Mountain/Little Colorado herd management areas between Rock Springs and La Barge starting next month. The agency plans to castrate all the stallions it captures and release 177 of them back to the range.
The BLM estimates roughly 1,000 horses are in the area but says there should be no more than 400. Officials say they expect to capture 90 percent of the horses on the 60-mile wide area.
The Western Watersheds Project and American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign and others filed the lawsuit in Washington, D.C., this week against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BLM officials. The groups argue the roundup would violate federal law.
An agency spokeswoman has declined comment on the lawsuit.
"Overabundance of wild horses has impacts on the range," Ferrell said. "That creates impacts on rangeland use by livestock and habitat use by wildlife. And so these two particular herd management areas are over the appropriate level as defined by BLM now. We'd like to see these two gathers implemented so they can get back into the prescribed population level."
The state and the BLM entered an agreement in 2003 requiring the federal agency not to allow wild horse populations to exceed what the federal agency determines are appropriate levels. Mead, a rancher, earlier this week said overpopulation of wild horses must not be allowed to hurt rangelands.
"What I am seeking on our public lands is a balance," Mead had said. "Right now, with the number of wild horses on the range, there is an imbalance. We have a consent decree with the BLM on wild horse management, and we expect the BLM to abide by that decree."
Jon Marvel of Hailey, Idaho, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said his group filed the lawsuit to try to counterbalance what it sees as the traditional behavior of the BLM and western politicians who believe the only legitimate uses of public lands are to support ranching and energy development.
"One of the great ironies of the American West is that politicians like Gov. Mead tend to intervene on the side of public lands ranchers and against wildlife and wildlife habitat, and the interests of the majority of the citizens of Wyoming and the United States," Marvel said.
Suzanne Roy, campaign director with the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said she expects attorneys on Friday will ask a federal judge in Washington for a court order blocking the roundup. She said a hearing on the request could come as soon as next week.
"Even though Wyoming advertises its wild horses as a reason for people to come and visit, it's no surprise that the state is actively supporting efforts to get the wild horses off of public land," Roy said. "Like the BLM policy, the state's policy is driven by livestock interests. And it comes at the expense of our wild horses and a lot of other wild animals as well."